Today, CompetencyWorks released a new paper, Maximizing Competency Education and Blended Learning: Insights from Experts. The paper is based on a two-day conversation with twenty-three incredibly insightful people who work in competency education, personalized learning, and blended learning – and the paper only captures a small portion of the rich conversation. (See A Mountain of Knowledge to Climb for more background) There are several parts to the paper, including:
- an exploration of the relationship between personalized learning, competency education, and blended learning and the concerns about equity that arise in each;
- issues that district leadership will want to consider in managing change, such as providing greater autonomy to schools;
- guidance for competency-based schools to enhance their instruction through blended learning; and
- how districts that have integrated blended learning can take the next step towards becoming competency-based.
Blended learning can help in competency-based schools in so many ways – sometimes with a tidbit of risk we need to guard against. We all know that high quality adaptive software can be helpful for students to develop their foundational skills. Blended learning can also help to offer students the opportunity to take what they are learning and go deeper, or begin to use what they are learning in knowledge creation. These aren’t discrete activities such as extra credit or helping peers. This is the opportunity for students to be highly challenged. Blended learning can be used to offer additional challenging projects that students can take on (call them honor projects, if need be) to strengthen their learning by asking them to further apply their skills to new situations (Level 4 Depth of Knowledge). Students will be able to access the challenges or problem-based learning independently so teachers can stay focused on supporting students who are still struggling to reach proficiency. The risk here is that schools only offer deeper learning to the high-achieving students, which is totally unacceptable. So we need to create both/and – embedding Level 4 work for all students into the school design at some point in the schedule and curriculum, and offering Level 4 work for students who have advanced to proficiency in the unit or course.
Another way blended learning can be helpful is to allow students to advance to the next level of learning once they have reached proficiency on a unit or course. This requires us to strip the ceiling off the education system by offering units online so students can advance. The risk is that that this will turn into a dynamic that so-called faster students are considered the better students. I’ve already visited schools where students talk about faster and slower students – it was done respectfully but was definitely a way for some students to differentiate themselves from their peers.
There are also challenges in using certain types of online learning in competency-based schools. These are raised in the paper and hopefully vendors will take these into consideration as they further develop their products.
We’d like to hear from you — How is your district/school using blended learning? What are the lessons learned and insights? What would your advise be to districts/schools about how to best implement blended learning to support students build and apply their skills?